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Posted by on Feb 5, 2009 in Uncategorized

Obama’s new Faith Advisory Council includes Baptists

President Obama has named a Faith Advisory Council that will advise the new Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  There will be 25 members on the Council, appointed to one-year terms.

Here’s the list, a list that includes popular Baptist blogger Melissa Rogers of Wake Forest University:

Judith N. Vredenburgh, President and Chief Executive Officer, Big Brothers / Big Sisters of AmericaPhiladelphia, PA

Rabbi David N. Saperstein, Director & Counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and noted church/state expertWashington, DC

Dr. Frank S. Page, President emeritus, Southern Baptist ConventionTaylors, SC

Father Larry J. Snyder, President, Catholic Charities USAAlexandria, VA

Rev. Otis Moss, Jr., Pastor emeritus, Olivet Institutional Baptist ChurchCleveland, OH

Eboo S. Patel, Founder & Executive Director, Interfaith Youth CorpsChicago, IL

Fred Davie, President, Public / Private Ventures, a secular nonprofit intermediary New York, NY

Dr. William J. Shaw, President, National Baptist Convention, USAPhiladelphia, PA

Melissa Rogers, Director, Wake Forest School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs and expert on church/state issuesWinston-Salem, NC

Pastor Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, a Church DistributedLakeland, FL

Dr. Arturo Chavez, Ph.D., President & CEO, Mexican American Cultural CenterSan Antonio, TX

Rev. Jim Wallis, President & Executive Director, SojournersWashington, DC

Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie, Presiding Bishop, 13th Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal ChurchKnoxville, TN

Diane Baillargeon, President & CEO, Seedco, a secular national operating intermediaryNew York, NY

Richard Stearns, President, World VisionBellevue, WA

Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News & World Report has a few thoughts on the Council:

A few of these folks stand out, for various reasons:

World Vision president Richard Stearns recently said that if Obama keeps his campaign pledge to undo President Bush’s policy that allows faith-based groups to hire only likeminded believers with federal funds, World Vision would back out of faith-based initiatives. It’s still unclear exactly how Obama will handle the hiring question, but it would be odd for Stearns to agree to join a White House advisory committee for a program that his organization will walk away from.

Wake Forest’s Melissa Rogers is the coauthor of a recent Brookings Institution report that recommends the Obama administration tighten rules preventing federal funds going to explicitly religious activities and that encourages the administration to study the hiring question more before making a final decision about it.

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s David Saperstein was an opponent of Bush’s faith-based initiatives office but has been working with the Obama team as it launches its own version.

These three individuals have sharply different views on faith-based initiatives, making it difficult to puzzle out how the White House will handle the sensitive hiring question. Stay tuned.

The Baptist Joint Committee has put out a press release on this subject.  Here’s a snippet from that:

The panel, which is not to exceed 25 members, is composed of a diverse group of religious and secular leaders with experience in social services, including former Baptist Joint Committee General Counsel Melissa Rogers, BJC Board Member William Shaw and Rabbi David Saperstein, a fellow co-chair of religious liberty coalitions. 

“This group represents a good example of the president’s desire to hear many points of view,” said J. Brent Walker, executive director of the BJC. “I am especially glad Melissa Rogers and others will be at the table to offer a strong defense of religious liberty and church-state separation.”

Walker applauded Obama’s focus on developing ways to cooperate with organizations helping those in need and doing it the right way. “Partnerships between government and faith-based organizations are a given,” Walker said. “However, the rules of cooperation must be carefully crafted to protect religious liberty. I urge the president to ban religious hiring discrimination in government-funded programs. The BJC will continue to press for it.”

All religious liberty-lovin’ Baptists should be comforted to see one of our church-state experts, Melissa Rogers, on this new Advisory Council!

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  1. Just to clarify, would a ban on religious hiring discrimination apply to, for example, Baylor University or Buckner International?

  2. Well, both.

    If a pervasively sectarian organization like Baylor or Buckner accepts faith-based funds (made available under the Charitable Choice provision of the Welfare Reform Act of 1996) for social-service purposes, they would be subject to federal regulations regarding discrimination.

    So that’s a yes for Buckner. And it’s a yes for any institute or organization related to Baylor University that also takes the same faith-based funds for social service purposes. I think there are a couple of institutes/schools within Baylor that have either applied for or accepted faith-based money in years past.

  3. So would that mean that Baylor and Buckner must hire (for example) a Wiccan or an atheist, if they have the best resume or are the only applicant? If so, is that just for the particular program that uses faith-based funds, or throughout the institution?

    Thank you for responding. I have so many questions that I probably should call the BJC.

  4. B’Diddy,

    When did Frank Page become President Emeritus of the SBC?


  5. Let me give a more specific example:

    Say a Baptist church applies for federal funds to start a Day Care. The purpose of the Day Care is to serve the needs of kids in a poor community, etc.

    The Baptist church or religious organization receives the money to start the Day Care.

    The Baptist church starts the hiring process for the Day Care. A few Baptists apply as well as a few non-Christians. The Baptist church can not take into consideration the religious background of the applicants when making the decision of who to hire.

  6. Oh, and it would only apply to the particular program. I don’t know much about Buckner. But only the programs/institutes at Baylor that receive the money would be affected.

  7. So, combining our examples, the qualified atheist (e.g., advanced degree in child development, 15 years’ experience, great recommendations, great personality and demeanor), wins the job over three objectively less qualified Christians; otherwise, a legal claim for discrimination may ensue…?

    If the Baylor or Buckner daycare taught Bible lessons, that probably renders it ineligible for federal funds and this becomes moot.

  8. “So, combining our examples, the qualified atheist (e.g., advanced degree in child development, 15 years’ experience, great recommendations, great personality and demeanor), wins the job over three objectively less qualified Christians; otherwise, a legal claim for discrimination may ensue…?”

    Correct. The atheist could sue in court or file a complaint with the appropriate government agency.

    “If the Baylor or Buckner daycare taught Bible lessons, that probably renders it ineligible for federal funds and this becomes moot.”

    Not necessarily – that’s my understanding. Currently, faith-based recipients can’t proselytize with the federal funds. So, they structure the budget in a way to keep the federal funds separate from other non-government monies that are used for religious purposes. So, I don’t think a faith organization could offer provide a bowl of soup and offer a bible study at the same time. The organization would have to keep the religious activities separate from the federally-funded social services.

    In years past – Bush did not enforce any of these regulations. But technically, an organization that takes the money opens themselves up to a good bit of government oversight. Groups like WorldVision won’t like that.

    But then, organizations like Catholic Social Services and Lutheran Services have been taking federal money for years and have grown a huge social ministry – but their social ministry is a ministry that will hire non-Catholics. Those organizations also does not qualify as pervasively sectarian.

  9. Thank you for explaining.

    We need to count the cost (loss of independence) of taking federal funds.

  10. I’m not comforted by a Baptist who thinks there is any reason to study whether religion-based discrimination should be funded with federal dollars. Until there are unlimited funds where all faiths are able to fund their social ministries with their own adherents, no organization should be able to discriminate.

    In Dallas, there have been documented cases of religious providers of services to the homeless discriminating against LGBT people. I doubt that if these organizations received federal funds that they would change there ways without strong federal sanctions. I’m afraid that in a case like this, in a city like Dallas, many people could be proselytized or denied services before the organization was sanctioned or defunded.

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